The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
John’s, Shaughnessy, Vancouver, BC
7:30am Holy Communion
“Master, carest thou not that we perish?”
Today’s gospel abbreviates the classical Epiphany teaching for this day. For
centuries the gospel that was read told not only the story of Jesus rebuking
the wind and calming the sea, but as well the story of the Gadarene swine.
Jesus exorcizes the demons from two men possessed and sends the demon
spirits into a herd of swine which then rush headlong over a cliff and
perish in the sea below The point was sufficiently clear. The teaching is
that Jesus is the Divine Saviour who protects us both from the sea-storms of
the world and the sea-storms of the heart - the demons of our fears and
anxieties which can so easily possess and control us.
question is whether we are awake to his presence and whether we actually
want him in our neighbourhood. The disciples who awaken Jesus from his sleep
accuse him of not caring about whether they perish. They are, we may say,
totally asleep to the meaning of his presence with them. It is altogether
because he cares. And the people of the country of the Gadarenes who are so
terrified about what Jesus does to remove the fierce demons which had
previously terrified them beg him to leave their neighbourhood.
the face of the light of God’s glory made manifest in Christ Jesus there is
the darkness of our ignorance and our fears. And it is our darkness, to be
sure. At best, we could say that we are slow to learn and sleepy-heads about
what Christ would have us learn.
even in its abbreviated form the lesson is powerfully present. The storm at
sea does reveal a sea-storm in the hearts of the disciples. There is in them
a winter-storm of discontent, of doubt and anger and anxiety. Is Jesus in
the boat the Saviour or is he a Jonah-figure who must be thrown out of the
boat in some sort of propitiatory act to the gods of the storm? At the very
least, there is that kind of ambiguity in the question of the disciples at
the height of their fear. “Master, carest thou not that we perish?”
“Master”, they call him, actually, teacher. What sort of master or
teacher is it that doesn’t care? One that is not worthy of being called
Master or Teacher. Jesus does care. And he cares that we should learn what
he has come to teach. It is not only the wind that is rebuked and the sea
that is calmed. The storm winds of doubt in the disciples are rebuked and
the sea waves of fear in their hearts are calmed. They are awakened to holy
awe and wonder. By what he has said and done they are forced to consider
‘who is this?’ “Who is this that even the wind and sea obey him?”
In short, there is an epiphany.
feared exceedingly in the face of his saving action. Literally, they were
afraid with a great fear. In short, they were filled with awe and wonder.
They sense something of the fuller meaning of the teacher who is with them.
It means more than mere sympathy with our condition. Battered about in the
storms of life, we will, it seems, take solace in the company of others as
miserable as ourselves. But Christ is something more. The presence of Christ
is salvation, not the cold comfort of shared misery. He rebukes the wind; he
calms the sea. They are subject to him and so are we.
And so are we. But how easily and frequently do we miss the point or
even refuse the meaning of his presence. Time and time again in the pastoral
ministry, we encounter people in their grief and misery and pain who refuse
any teaching that would place their suffering and affliction in connection
with the gospel of Christ. They would prefer to cling to their misery and to
hold onto their grief, whether it is the grief of a widow who keeps on
weeping endlessly or the sad misery of parents and grandparents worried sick
about their children, grandchildren or whatever else it may be.
sympathy which is wanted is perfectly deadly. It is a sympathy which keeps
us in our griefs and our misery and our pain. It means that you’re dead
before you’re dead with a death which is worse than death itself. It denies
the hope of salvation. It denies the presence of the Saviour. It refuses the
comfort of his eternal word.
sure, the griefs and miseries and pains which people experience are very
real and they are not to be trifled with or passed over lightly. Yet the
empty clichés of our common discourse are but the poor palliatives for the
winter-storms of our hearts.
can mean what, at the very least, is suggested by the disciples in this
gospel. “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” is not a request
that he do something about their situation. It is more like, ‘come and be
with us while we all perish’. ‘Come and join your voice to the
howling chorus of our poor-me’s’. They are not awake to the truth of his
presence with them - that in the midst of the storms of the world Christ is
our salvation. In him is the calm and peace of our souls. Our salvation is
to be with him who is our Saviour.
Christ does not come just to share our sorrows and to join our miserable
company. He comes to do something about the condition of our storm-tossed,
sin-wrecked hearts. He comes as Saviour. He goes to the cross for us and for
our salvation, not to be another statistic. Epiphany would awaken us to the
radical nature of his being our Saviour, even to the truth of the cosmic
means that we, too, are to be rebuked for our faithlessness. For we have
failed to acknowledge the truth of who he is and what he means for us. He
comes to teach us who he is for us. Sometimes it means gentle rebukes,
strong admonitions, quiet encouragements, but always faithful teaching and
faithful praying. It means being awake to Christ our Saviour. He comes to be
with us as Saviour because he cares.
“Master, carest thou not that we perish?”